Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Me and 10 Billion Chinese

Just got back from my trip to Frankfurt. I spent almost two hours at immigration tonight waiting behind a flight from Shanghai. They were a little short-staffed at the desk, which made it slow anyway, but then add that to a line full of a 747's worth of Chinese people, many of whom know very little English. Between the visa questioning and the unresponsiveness to "NEXT" and the slowed reactions of folks fresh off a 10 hour flight, it went on like a bad dream. When I finally got to the immigration officer I actually smiled at him and said, "Hooray! It's my turn! I'm so HAPPY!" He laughed at me and let me right in.

I will say, though, that it's odd to have gotten to a point where going through immigration at Heathrow feels like part of my commute and not a major event. I didn't feel like I was in a customs delay today. I felt like I was in a traffic jam.

Frankfurt was fine. It was a trade show, so mostly I just walked around a convention centre greeting people with the double bus on the cheek (the English are definitely two-kiss greeters,) and talking about exotic places with strangers. My favourite things in my 24 hour trip to Germany were:

- German men sure like their tight-fitting trousers that are slightly too short. Someone should really talk to them about that. (Note to clarify...it is not the tight pants that I like, it's the stereotype of oddly attired Germans. I actually find the pants kind of creepy, and worry that they're terribly uncomfortable.)
- They also like ill-fitting tweed double breasted jackets.
- And where do Germans get their glasses?
- I think 20% of German women have flattops.
- I stayed at a lovely hotel, and there was a mini stepmaster and a set of 5kg weights in each guest room as a standard amenity. I can just picture some fit 60 year old Jack Lalane-looking German businessman putting in 30 minutes on the march-in-place machine before jumping in the shower.
- It's fun to watch German tv and guess what they're saying. (I don't speak any German, FYI.) Their pop culture is beyond understanding.
- They had dill pickles on the breakfast buffet, as well as extra crispy bacon. (American style bacon, not Brit.)
- Man, they drive those cabs fast.

All in all, it was a perfectly fine trip, and once I actually got to my car and hit the highway I had a nice evening. Home in time for a call with my learning team, and now I'm heading to bed with the copy of Blink that I bought in the airport. That Malcom Gladwell. What a genius.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Liberal Media

This is an excellent piece about how the "liberal media" have actually been anything but in the past ten years. And before you dismiss it as a rant, take the time to read it. It makes some very strong arguments in plain language even the most closed-minded can understand. Read it, then spread the word.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Saturday Kitchen

There's a cooking show on BBC1 every Saturday called Saturday Kitchen, and I like to watch it when I have a schedule that permits. I'm being lazy on this bank holiday weekend so this is definitely a SK day. The format is good, actually...there's a celebrity chef host named Antony Worrell Thompson, and he has two guests each week. They usually have similar or complimentary styles, and each chef cooks something from their repertoire and then offers up one dish each for a competition and viewers vote for which one they want to see cooked at the end of the show.

There's a young Italian chef on today who's just been to Mexico and he's making beef taquitos. He's got one of those pronounced "that's-a-spicy-meatball" accents, and he's making all sorts of good natured pronouncements about Mexico and the things he learned there. And it's absolutely ridiculous. So far he's told us that they use too much spice, that they use all this spice to cover the flavour of their rotting meat, that corn tortillas are harsh and taste funny, and that Mexicans are kind of lazy. What an ignorant loser. And while AWT is trying to step in and correct him when he can, his knowledge of Mexico is limited and he's also trying to be a good host, bless him.

By the way, the beef taquitos recipe is NOT all that authentic, even though they're claiming it is. I'd say it's similar to the spicy beef seasoning you'd get in a burrito at Don Pablos or ChiChis, and then add a ton of sour cream and chive chip dip to make sure you mask the spices.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dirty Little Secret

In addition to my obsessive Elliott watching and my crush on Grant Mitchell from Easties, I am currently compelled by Al Gore.

Yes, Al Gore. Tipper's husband. (And you know I'm no fan of Tipper and her censorship.) I've always been an Al Gore fan, but now, I don't know. He's got a something-something going on that cannot be denied.

I think it's all that earnestness and intellect, combined with the edgy criticism of the Bush administration he keeps giving when asked for comment. I haven't seen his movie yet, but my friend Pam says it's a real wonkfest and a bit of a snoozer. (And Pam's the sort who likes a wonkfest now and again, so these are strong words.) Somehow, however, I think I'll be riveted. There's nothing sexier than a smart guy who's passionate about his subject, and in Al's case he doubles as a sort of superhero who's ready to help us save the planet from the evil forces of doom (and W). He's like Superman, except his alter ego is actually Clark Kent. Plus Al's got that vaguely aquiline nose and those piercing eyes. And what a vocabulary. Can you imagine the Scrabble game he must play? Swoon.

Trip Home

I've ticketed for my summer trip home, and here's the plan.

As you know, I'll be FORTY on July 22. Therefore I'm catching a flight to New York to spend the weekend with Tom and George and some of my friends will be joining me. I'm rather excited about NYC, actually. Haven't been to the new MOMA yet, so I've put that on my list, but otherwise Tom is sorting the itinerary and I just have to show up and be worshiped. Can do, baby. And perhaps shake a tail feather, but that is TBD.

I fly to MSP on the 24th, and will be in the midwest until August 4th. I expect I'll have about 4 days in MSP and the remainder in Decorah. MSP time will be weekdays, but I will be scheduling a night of cocktails sometime whilst I'm there. If you've got venue suggestions you should let me know. I'm always a sucker for Mancini's Char House and a tall Belvedere Dirty Martini served by a waitress who sounds like a Fargo extra and who calls me "hon", but I wouldn't be against a tiki drink at Suzie's or a mojito at La Bodega or a 007 at Moscow on the Hill. Or I'd be keen to try something new. You tell me. Are they doing anything good at the Walker Sculpture Garden this summer?

Friday night out

It's a day to celebrate. Turned in our group Statistics Team Project today, and the bonus was I actually understood it enough to write a coherent executive summary. Don't get me wrong, the more formula-oriented people in the group actually ran the linear regression. But the good news is that I could help interpret the results. Wa-hoo.

So I decided to celebrate with a night out. Colleagues from work were going out, and I'd not intended to go...it was a leaving do for a girl I'd actually helped out the door. (I'm her manager, and let's just say she'll do much better in her next venture.) So I wasn't exactly sure I was welcome, but I guess I picked out a good leaving gift, so they encouraged me to come along.

We tried a new restaurant here in MK that had been getting good reviews. It's called Silk Road, and they're trying to play that whole pan-Asia fusion thing. The group was small...I'd missed the happy hour because I really needed a stop at the gym to get out some of this post-exam anxiety, so I joined late and got the seat next to the non-work people who were friends from her running club. You can imagine how much I had in common with them. Actually, we'll never really know how much I have in common with them, as I'm not sure they know how much they have in common with each other...they talked only about running. Where do they run in the winter. Where do they run in the summer. Should they buy running shoes. Should they try a marathon. Blah blah blahbity blah. I tried to be interested, I really did. Good lord, I can have a conversation with a turnip if I have to. But they weren't biting.

So I tried to join the conversation of the work colleagues on my other side. But the restaurant had pushed a round table and a rectangle together, and I was in a strange place to participate in their conversation because they were at the rectangle and I was in the dead zone...I had blindspots and couldn't actually see all four of them.

Okay. One conversation is not interesting. I can't actually fully participate in the other. Plus the thai fishcakes sucked. So what did I do? I started smiling and nodding and counting the number of times one woman snorted (12), and the number of times they used a word that would spell with a "z" and they use an "s" (35, but that's assuming that I caught them all 'cause that's actually hard to do.) I watched a guy at the next table chew with his mouth open. I planned my OM report that I'll be writing tomorrow.

And the funny thing is that I don't think anyone noticed.

So now I'm home and watching the TiVo-ed finale of American Idol. I swear that Katherine's father is crying because he can't believe how badly she's singing that horrible destiny song they wrote for her. And she seems to have taken my advice to dance, because she's jerking like a girl having a fit. But her mermaid skirt is hugging her butt, so that should negate the fact that she sounds like a drunk karaoke singer, at least with a subset of the viewers.

Oh my. I'm serious. That was really, really bad. Go find it online. P-U. And Randy jumps in with, "You look amazing." Code for that sucked. She's got to be feeling really bad. I don't like her, and I'm actually feeling kind of bad FOR her.

So it's a bank holiday weekend. I need to mow the little meadow in the back garden, and I need to write 1500 words about our OM project from the beginning of the term, then I'm done for awhile. I have to go to Frankfurt for an industry trade show on Mon/Tues, so my three day weekend is not actually a full three days, but that's fine because I'd taken last Thursday without pay for studying. And I think I'm going rambling on Sunday. Haven't spent time in the fields in awhile, and there's a good walk in the Cotswolds that takes you to a roman villa. Haven't been, have been told to try it out.

Will figure out my camera for the Africa pics, as well...more on that soon.

Tips for cutting the grass

I believe that I've mentioned that my lawn in the back garden had gotten freakishly long. It's not usually that way. I'd had a bit of trouble with both front and back gardens at the beginning of the season because I didn't realise that last fall there was actually a day after which you really wouldn't be able to mow for six months due to weather, and, well, that day came the Thursday before the Saturday I'd intended for mowing. So the lawn continued to grow throughout the winter, and by the time the rain stopped and mowing was possible again it had gotten totally out of control.

I was able to fix it, but then with exams and the buckets of rain we've been getting it has never really seemed like the time to cut the grass. And funny thing about grass...it grows, regardless of rain or life pressures. So I was left with grass that was somewhere around 6 - 12 inches long in the back garden. It was in that shaggy unmown phase where you can see the waves of the wind, actually.

I have a lightweight, small electric push mower. Don't really need more, as my lawn is tiny. So I went out last night...it was clear and sunny for the first time in two weeks...knowing that it would be difficult to cut that crazy meadow. And I was right. About every minute grass would jam the blade, I'd turn off the mower to clean it out, and start again. This was compounded by the fact that one sunny afternoon does not a dry yard make. The grass was soaking, and the ground squooshed under my steps. Squooshy ground leads to mudskids under your foot when you aren't thinking, and that means you slide around.

I knew I'd have better luck if I could adjust the mower height, but my mower doesn't begin to have that feature. Instead, I developed a method as I went along where I'd go across the grass with the front of the mower tipped upwards, then pull back with both wheels on the ground. Seemed to work, and though it was much more like vacuuming, I was able to get the perimeter of the yard done and was left with a 6 ft square in the middle of the lawn when the mower overheated and stopped working from the whirring of a jammed blade. I gave up for the night.

Now it looks like I have a test patch or am growing some sort of exotic species of grass, and am not mowing it for effect. And it's raining again, so it will only get worse.

Note to self. Try mowing in the rain next time.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

10 year old boy humor

I bought a little wheel of 99p Camembert at M&S the other day, and before I go to mow my lawn I'm having a little snack. The package says, "Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Use within 3 days of cutting the cheese."

Tee hee. Perhaps I need to have a bowl of chili first.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Links to the right

I've noticed I've got a lot of links over there on the right bar, so I thought I'd tell you who they are. They're there for a reason....they are all Mindy-endorsed sites and so you might want to give them a spin when you're looking for things to do online.

Nerd's Eye View - Pam joined me in the Seattle phase of my life. Her blogs are seasonal...she lives in Seattle in the spring/summer/fall, and spends winters in Austria with her husband. She also makes a good living writing, and has links to all sorts of fascinating stuff where she's a contributor or an editor or just knows somebody goofy who should be getting some attention. Plus she's a kickass photographer and quite the raconteur.

Coaster Punchman's World - Owned by Tom, my primarily gay boyfriend and soulmate. Tom joined me at St. Olaf. Tom's blog has no theme. He just talks about his life and the things that annoy/elate/frustrate him. He has a big following, and will cyberstalk you if you post a comment.

Five Things I Hate - We discussed this earlier in the week. This is a subset of CPman's World, and is a public venting space, assuming you can state your frustration with some wit.

We Judge The Idols - Limited shelf-life site that is a joint venture between Melinda June and CPMan's World. To bring you up to speed...we loved Elliott, we love Taylor, and we say mean things about Katherine.

Land-o-Lulu - My friend Lauren, who joined me sometime in the past ten years when Tom introduced us. Acerbic/sarcastic/sweet. Creepy smart and well read. I like to think of her as a post-modern school marm.

Vaughn's Musings - Specifically this is Vide Vitae Vocative Vaughn, owned by my friend Vaughn who also joined me in Seattle and now makes an "internet" living in Scottsdale. Vaughn doesn't much care for Republican politics, and he knows a LOT of reasons why you shouldn't, either.

To Whom it May Concern and Life Under the Tower - people I don't know, but read regularly. One is very very cool. One is not. You decide.

Crooks and Liars - Political blog...good source of videos that will make you laugh.

Miss Manners - more than just table etiquette. She's a way of life.

Decorah Public Opinion and Journal - My life as it could have been, had I married my high school sweetheart and settled down. Okay, that would have meant I had to have a high school sweetheart to marry, but you get the idea.

Penzey's Spices - Surely you use Fox Point and Sate Seasoning????

Jesus of the Week - This week's Jesus is a tattoo of our Lord and Savior who looks like a wookie. Need I say more?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Another favourite blog

My friend Tom found this one with "view next blog," and I am compelled to keep reading it. I've added it to the sidebar for easy access, should you, too, develop a sick and horrid fascination.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Revising

I have been frantically revising over the last few weeks. I had totally forgotten what this was like. This sucks.

I'm 39 years old, and the last time I took an exam it was 1988. Plus, let's face it...I was never much of a studier in college. So right now I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided I needed to get my MBA while also working full time. This sucks.

It's been crazy busy at work lately. It's coming to the end of the fiscal year, and people are trying to get whatever sales they can. I appreciate this and am happy to help them, but this means we're working on lots of unqualified bids that don't really have much chance of getting a win and everything is due in about three days. We've even had people receive requests for proposals that sit in their inbox for a week and then they send them to us for a turn in four days. It's horrible. And all the time, I'm trying to get out of there and get home so I can draw third degree price discrimination graphs and learn about the nuances of absorption vs marginal costs against stock. This sucks.

I get home and I'm tired and I really just want to make dinner and watch Eastenders. But I have to lock myself in the dining room with my books and spend time thinking about what capital employed includes. And I can't have my laptop in there with me, or I'll find a reason to blog or to surf to see what's up in my friends' blogs or will be googling Elliott Yamin to see how things are trending in the American Idol voting public. And tonight I know the votes are in and the results will come overnight and I am sick with fear that Elliott is going home. I've developed an unnatural fixation on his fate...charming underdog with gobs of talent, who's had to overcome bad teeth, unfashionable hair, and an Abe Lincoln beard to get where he is. So I've got the niggling fear that that ridiculous Katherine will stay and Elliott will go home and the world will prove itself completely unfair. This sucks.

I have the day off tomorrow, and I'm going to spend the day at school reviewing Accounting, Economics, and Statistics. Statistics is an open book exam, so mostly I'll be reviewing and making step by step notes to ensure I know what I'm doing in the exam. Figure that I'm about 12 hours of revising away from being ready for the exams, and then by Saturday my first term is over...just two projects to finish independently and then I'm done with 1/4 of my MBA. Assuming I pass everything. I am stressed beyond belief. Practically gray from tension.

This sucks.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Five Things I Hate

There's a new link on the right, this time for a blog called Five Things I Hate that is orchestrated by my friend Tom. Read about what makes others' blood boil. Email Tom and tell him what really miffs you. Vent all you want...Tom can handle it.

OH! And my friend Lauren found this great site. I've added it to the right, as well. Wish I were as clever as that chick.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Africa Part 3

Okay. Almost done!

When we last left our hero (me!), she was drinking gin and tonic in the hotel bar, then heading to bed.

Got up the next day to a relaxing morning. We were supposed to go jet-boating in the white-water part of the river, but the boat's engines were on the fritz so we got to be leisurely instead. They scheduled massages for us, which were given in tents with open walls to the Mighty Zambezi River. Spectacular setting with the river peacefully flowing in front of me while the nice lady worked the kinks out of my back. (Of which there were many.) Met in the lobby at 11 and headed to Botswana.

The border is actually the MIGHTY Zambezi, so you have to take a ferry across. It's a small ferry, so trucks passing between the two line up for days to wait for entrance. There are lots of stands selling food and drink along the approach. You enter the fenced in customs area, and you make your way across the red dirt parking area, which is riddled with erosion trenches and dusty and wild. You go into a hot, sweaty cinderblock building and wait in line with the locals for a custom stamp. Several of the windows for agents can't actually be used, because there are stacks of yellowing documents blocking them that are at least two feet high. When you get to the window they interrogate you about your stay, then reluctantly stamp you. On your way out, you have to walk through this manky liquid that kills potential hoof-and-mouth disease bacteria on your shoes. Then you make your way down to the river, where you wait under a tree with the other passengers. Kids come to try to sell you things. We had a separate little boat to take us across, so we didn't wait for the ferry. Instead, our luggage and we were loaded, we were given tiny little life jackets, and went across the river to Botswana. We were loaded into open-air Land Rovers, luggage was dumped in a trailer, and we headed into Chobe. Chobe is a huge game reserve, and we were staying at a lodge in the park. Once you're in, the roads aren't paved and have gullies and washout places, so it's like four-wheeling. Within two minutes of entering the park we saw elephants at the road, and as we made our way through we saw impala and some antelope-looking thing and lots of birds and hyenas. The lodge was set along the Chobe River, and was surrounded by electric barbed wire to keep out the animals. There was a family of warthogs roaming the grounds. We had lunch in the open air restaurant, then headed to our rooms to clean up.

At 430 we met for a sunset cruise on the river, which is the perfect time to see game because they come to the river to drink. We had a covered pontoon, and drove amongst the reeds. We saw hippos, crocodiles, herons, cool little birds that walked on the lilypads, and all sorts of other birds in trees and flying above. We couldn't get to the shore because it was the end of the rainy season and the floodplains were too shallow for a boat. But from the distance we saw herds of elephants and giraffes along the shore, which was totally surreal. Unfortunately, about half way through the cruise our engine conked out. We could only go in reverse. So we floated for awhile and then ended up waiting for a new boat, which arrived around sundown. But we had lots of fin and tonic along and a plate of canapes to boot, so we had a little cocktail party while we waited. Once back at the hotel, we changed for dinner and met in the torch-lit boma along the river, where we feasted on local foods and listened to a marimba band under the stars. After dinner, we went to the roof to the star-deck, which was above the lights of the hotel and gave us spectacular views of the night sky. The hotel's astronomer gave us a tour of the sky, pointing out the Southern Cross, Cirius, all the visible planets, and constellations like the scorpion and Orion. The sky looks very different in the southern hemisphere, which surprised me. I guess I didn't think that I knew much about the stars, even though I have spent my share of time looking at them lying in fields or on the hood of my car.

Went to bed in a spectacular bed, and slept soundly. Got my wakeup call at 530, and met in the lobby at 6AM for our morning game drive. Spent two hours in the park, and saw lots of game, though the lion was hidden in the bush. (He was roaring something crazy and we saw his tail, but the greenery from the rainy season obscured most of him.) Never a morning person, I admit that I took a little nap part way through, but I woke up for the 15 hippos playing in the shallows and the baboons that practically crawled onto our Land Rover. Game drives are really cool, and I am excited to go back during peak season when the bush is down and you can see more.

Had a quick breakfast, then left the park and headed to the river crossing. Saw giraffes AND elephants on the way out of the park. Stopped to look at two hotels, one of which was one of the coolest I've seen in my career. It had individual houses, all with giant beds surrounded with mosquito netting, fabulous sunken tubs in the giant bathrooms, and outdoor showers in the private courtyard. If I ever marry, I will be going to a hotel like this on my honeymoon. What a great holiday...game drive in the AM, napping and reading and swimming in the afternoon, then a game drive at night and dinner by candlelight. It would ROCK.

The river crossing was much easier this way, and then we headed to Livingstone airport, with a pitstop at another romantic, cool lodge overlooking the river. (The whole side of each villa opened to the river, with clawfoot tubs overlooking the scenery.)

Flight home was AWFUL. The Livingstone flight to Joburg was fine, but the Joburg-LHR leg was cramped beyond explanation. Took a pill to sleep, though, (thanks, Mike,) and so I arrived relatively rested for the drive to MK.

If you've not been there, I'd like to reiterate...Africa ROCKS, and if you've not been you should go. They also price everything to the US dollar, so it's not as expensive as some foreign travel. I'm telling you, this is a magical place.

Sidebar

Those who don't watch American Idol don't read the other blog I share with Tom, We Judge the Idols. But I have to cross-blog this week, because reasonable people need to get involved. It's down to three...a lovely Jewish/Iraqi American soul singer named Elliott who's scruffy and cute AND a really nice guy with humility and grace; a spastic grey-haired 29-year-old who is infectiously fun and totally unique; and a cloying, obnoxious Mariah-wannabe who oversings and tries to come off as an aw-shucks bashful girl, all the while using cleavage and belly-baring tops to sex her way into fame. And she dances like Elaine Benis on Seinfeld.

I can't watch Idol real-time or vote (AMERICAN Idol, don't you know, and I'm in England.) But if you've got 20 minutes, please do me a favour and watch the last 10 minutes in your time zone and place calls to vote for Elliott. He deserves the win. Or better yet, watch the whole show and fall in love with Elliott (and in "like" with Taylor) yourself, because these guys are the real thing.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Africa Part 2

Okay. So "tomorrow" turned into "next week". Sorry. I'm in the crunch before finals (19 and 20 May), and so I'm a little stressed. But thought I'd do a quick update.

I believe I left off with THE PLAGUE of bugs outside my door.

The next morning we got up early and headed up river about 20 minutes. We drove past red mud huts and little thatched villages. Absolutely amazing to see people living like this. (Remember what I said about National Geographic?) At one point, we had to brake fast as a herd (about 10) wild elephants came out of the ditch to cross the road. Not running or anything...just heading out for a drink at the river. They're like deer, I tell you, except a lot bigger. I tell you THAT would dent your bumper. (Perhaps they have elephant whistles on their cars to scare them off the road? I'll follow up on that.)

Eventually, we got to our destination where we met an adventuresome guide named Paul. Paul is Zimbabwean, and he's a rugged African adventurer sort. His wife (our local guide for the week) told us a story about how they'd had a leopard in their house a while back and Paul ended up fighting the thing with his bare hands. (Needed 40 some stitches to clean him up.) I know that sounds crazy. But I've seen the scars, people. This guy is unbelievable. Anyway, back on task...Paul spends a lot of his time paddling the rivers of Africa, and he runs a Zambezi River canoeing business as his main job. So he was waiting with canoes (more like sturdy kayaks, really,) and we did a little paddle down the Zambezi. Check that. The MIGHTY Zambezi. It was pretty easy, really. The current is direct and strong enough to move you in the right direction, but it's not turbulent or particularly wild where we were. It was a float, really, with hippos and funky birds to entertain us. We were on the river for about an hour, and then stopped for breakfast along the banks. Another Out of Africa dining experience, with a full English breakfast at our disposal. If I go back with more time, I think I'd like to do a proper canoe trip for the day. It's a great way to see the river.

After breakfast we headed out to the "Elephant Experience." If we'd had more time we could have ridden elephants into the bush to go on safari, but since we didn't have all day to spend we just got to feed them. We were given bags of pellets, basic elephant handling training, and then we fed them a snack.. For those who haven't fed an elephant, basically you either a) put handfuls of the stuff into their upturned trunk, b) let them stick their trunk into your pellet bag, or c) take handfuls and dump it directly into their mouth, where they will gum it in their freakymoistmuscular chops. I recommend method A, as c gives you a mitt full of elephant spit (and they are droolers, let me tell you,) and the undulating sucking/grabbing of their trunks makes the pellet bag hard to hold onto in method B.

Back on the bus. Home for a hotel tour, lunch, and then a walk around the falls. I'd had a cold before I left, and was feeling less than fantastic, so it was nice to get out of the sun and have a cool...wait for it, wait for it...gin and tonic. Had impala for lunch that day. Yum Yum.

The walk around Victoria Falls was spectacular. The falls are huge (established in the helicopter ride message,) and when you're near them the mist and the roar are overwhelming. There is a path that goes along the edge of the falls and out to an island of rock that puts you really close. As you start on the path, they give you rain slickers. I say just wear something that you don't mind getting wet and be sure you're not wearing a lacy bra. The rain slicker is little better. The mist from the falls was still like buckets of water dumping on us. I was soaked through. There's a swingy bridge that links the mainland and the island, and it had about two inches of water running all over it. My camera went on the fritz after that. But there were spectacular vistas, and it was truly worth it. Once you're out there you realize how high the falls are, how cool the crevices are of the river canyon that proceeds from the falls, and how amazingly powerful these things are. Much cooler than Niagara, plus no casinos.

When we finished the trail, we stopped off in a little craft market they have near the hotel. Basically, the hotel lets local merchants bring their artwork/crafts to an organized forum where guests and visitors to the falls can then bargain directly with them rather than buying from a shop. I wandered the stalls and got a few little things for kids back home. Still soaked to the skin, I headed back to my room for a warm shower and dry clothes.

We met in the lobby around 5, and we had gin and tonics on the deck by the river before heading out to catch our sunset train across the bridge that spans the falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The train was an old 50's steamtrain, and it has a mahogany walled club car where you enjoy cocktails and canapes while looking at the views. The train stops on the bridge, you can get out and see the view (again, spectacular), and then you head back. Nice little sundowner experience.

Back at the hotel we changed clothes again, this time for an upscale dinner. We were supposed to be on the lawn...they have tables set under trees, with candle chandeliers suspended above them...but the skies opened up as we were ending our train trip and so we moved into the restaurant. Fabulous gourmet dinner, with killer South African wines to compliment each course. Ended in the colonial looking bar with gin and tonics. Had a rousing conversation about the good old days when the sun never set on the English flag. They found the English colonial feel really historic and cool. I saw their point, but felt a strong surge of colonist rebellion, as well, and secretly cheered the Zambians for their independence.

Okay. That's enough for tonight. I still have two days to tell you about. But I need to go back to studying. More next week. (Or maybe tomorrow, you never know.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Africa Part 1

As you can probably tell from my weekend post, I am safely home from Africa. It was an amazing trip...I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and highly recommend it to anyone. I think that Americans forget to include it in their must-do travel plans because it's a long flight from the states, but I'm telling you this is the trip of a lifetime. Yowsa.

There's a lot to tell and many pictures to post, so I will do it in bits and pieces.

The trip actually started on the Friday before I left, as I had to start taking my malaria tablets. They made me kind of woozy, which was not fun. But woozy is better than getting malaria, which I believe I may have mentioned before.

I spent Sat and Sun getting my bags packed and trying to clean up the joint so I wasn't leaving it in a big mess. (Kat was in Tenerife, so I'd gotten a bit more cluttered than I've been lately.) I was just getting ready to hop in the shower and prepare for my drive to Heathrow when I reread my itinerary...and instead of having to arrive at 715pm I saw I needed to be there by 6. There's big construction on the M1 right now, which makes it really difficult to predict travel time. This meant I had exactly 20 minutes to shower, finish packing, and get in the car to allow time to travel. Scrambled like my feet were on fire, but I made it. I hopped in the car 22 minutes later (breathless and flustered, but clean,) and sped down the motorway. Got there a half hour earlier than I needed to. (Grrrrrr.)

Had some time to explore duty free, so I bought some shiny red toenail polish and tried on perfume. Check that. Tried on some really BAD perfume. I can't help it. All those bottles lined up in the shiny lights with their pretty liquids and intoxicating wafts of scent seduce me, and the next thing you know I've coated myself in cheap floral hell. Went to the loo and spent about 10 minutes scrubbing it off my arm before I realised it was actually on my clothes. Pleh. 10 hour flight ahead and I smell like J-Lo.

Met the rest of my group in the Business Class lounge. My group consisted of four event planners (two women in their late 20's/early 30's, a guy about my age, and me,) a journalist who was about my dad's age who owns an incentive travel magazine, our hotel host, our airline host, and our ground agent host. We had some snacks and some gin and tonics and then headed to the plane.

The flight was heaven. We'd been upgraded to business class and each of us had a seat that turned into a flat bed. Talk about comfort. We feasted on relatively okay airline food then settled in for an almost full-night's sleep. It was great.

Arrived in Jo'burg around 9 AM. We didn't have to clear customs...we just stayed in the terminal for international departures...so it took no time at all to enter the country. We had a few hours before our flight to Livingstone so I went shopping for a floppy hat to protect my pale pale skin from the sun. Found a nice one that looks vaguely like a beat up fedora. Perfect.

Caught the two-hour flight to Livingstone, and landed around 2 PM. The Livingstone airport is a little hut and a tarmac. You walk down steps and walk across the sweltering pavement to the unairconditioned customs stop. There is one tiny baggage carousel. You're still basically in the open air. My luggage arrived unscathed (I was lucky, as others had their luggage broken in to), and we went out to meet our transfers. I thought we'd be getting in a bus, but instead the grabbed our bags and sent us back out to the tarmac where we boarded helicopters for quick air-transfer to the hotel. On the way, we did a fly/swoop over Victoria Falls. Totally cool. The falls are HUGE...something like 1.7 km across...and they cascade into a deep ravine/canyon thing that the continuing river cuts into the earth. It's absolutely amazing. Our helicopter landed at the hotel's heliport, and on the two minute drive to the main entrance we passed two giraffes...a very cool sight.

The Royal Livingstone is a colonial-type property. It's all open air...no front door on the lobby, no back door either...just open expanses onto the lawns. It's located at the edge of the Zambezi River within spitting distance of the falls. In fact, in high water the spray from the waterfall soaks people sitting by the pool. We were greeted by cocktails and a local kid's choir singing African welcome songs, and they gave us beaded necklaces...I guess the African equivalent of a lei greeting. We had canapes and cocktails (late lunch) on the deck overlooking the falls and then had time to check into our rooms and clean up.

Grabbed a quick shower to shake off the travel funk and then headed to meet the group for the evening. We were going on a river cruise on the Zambezi. Or shall I say the "mighty Zambezi", as I never hear it called anything else. Our cruise ship departed from a spot upriver that was much calmer. It was a double-decker paddleboat type thing, and we travelled upriver with gin and tonic in hand. You'll notice lots of mention of G&Ts on this trip. It was the obligatory drink, really. I mean, there I was in and English colonial setting with malaria-laden mosquitos buzzing around. You HAVE to drink a gin and tonic...it's like eating barbeque and touring Graceland in Memphis. Plus this is the first time in my life I can actually say I could use the quinine in the tonic. It's medicinal, don't you know.

Our river cruise gave us spectacular sunset views. It's amazing how calm the Zambezi is when you're just slightly upstream from the falls. You would never know that just a few kilometers away all hell is breaking loose. The evening river cruise is a great place to see game, as well. We saw crocodiles, hippos, lots of birds...it was unbelievable. Seriously, not 20 feet from me there was a hippo along the banks, and I saw it take it's head above water and yawn with a giant roaring gasp. I'd stepped into National Geographic.

When the cruise was through, we headed to a nearby boma for dinner. (A boma is a circular clearing in the bush that they use like a camp...we often do boma dinners with a barbeque and a big open fire and dancing and drumming and such.) Our table was set under the stars with full linen, candles, crystal, etc. Torches lit the perimeter of the boma. They were waiting with drums, and we had a nice little drumming lesson. I got to uvulate. Dinner was relatively simple...soup, filet steak with veggies, a chocolate mousse for dessert...and then we headed back to the hotel for one last G&T. Decided to head to bed around midnight, so I headed down the path to my room. (No hallways...just sidewalks to the many smaller buildings with the rooms.) I'd no more than left the lobby than I turned a bend and walked into a herd of zebras. Yes, a herd of zebras. Six grazing on my left, two grazing on my right. Pretty freaky in the dark, let me tell you, especially after the Palm Springs zoo lady had told me how mean their zebra was. (I guess they're really fast and their kick packs a wallop.) I was high on life, let me tell you. Practically skipped to my room.

But once I got up the steps to my door, the skipping stopped. Full stop. See, the door to my room was in a little open-air cubicle that had the only light available in the area. And Africa has, well, a lot of insects. And insects like light. A lot. So basically, I turned into this lit cubicle to enter my room and found myself in the middle of some sort of Hitchcockian bug world. I swear there were so many beetles they could have carried furniture if they'd worked together. The hallway was positively TEEMING with bugs. Pleh. Screamed like a girl and flew back against the railing of the hallway/balcony. Had to step back, take a breath, and and then make a run for it. Made it into my room with only 20 little crawly friends, who quickly met an untimely end with the business end of my boot.

Took another shower (with some more creepy crawlies), and then hit the hay. Which is what I need to do now. More tomorrow.